24 April 2014
Tomorrow morning, rain or shine, thousands of New Zealanders will gather at dawn and throughout the morning to commemorate the disastrous Allied landings at ANZAC Cove, on the Gallipoli Peninsula, nearly 100 years ago.
They will do so not to recognise an outstanding victory – because it was most obviously not that – nor to glorify the abysmal tragedy that is war, but to acknowledge humble service and dedication, at ANZAC Cove, and through a near century of subsequent efforts, military and non-military, of generations of Defence Forces.
For some, there will be a family connection – maybe a parent, but increasingly more likely a grandparent, or great grandparent, who was there that morning. For others, it will be an occasion to commemorate the service of those in World War 11, Korea, Malaya, Vietnam, or more recently Afghanistan.
But for many, ANZAC Day will be about none of these. It may not even be about recognising the service of any loved one in the defence of New Zealand. Yet they will be there, dignified, sombre and respectful because ANZAC Day has transcended from commemoration of a particular event, as important and symbolic as that of itself properly is, to an occasion for all of us to remember and reflect the notion of service and our national commitment to freedom. That is what brings New Zealanders of all ages and backgrounds together on this special day, and is why what we loftily describe as the ANZAC Spirit (I doubt there was ever such a thing on the Peninsula on those awful days in 1915 where grim survival would have been the primary objective) will prevail.
As specific memories and connections inevitably fade, ANZAC Day around the world seems to prosper. The romanticised notion of the hell that was Gallipoli has forged a strong enduring streak within New Zealanders and Australians of determination, raw courage, stoicism in the face of adversity, and service to colleagues and country that has shaped the character of our two nations ever since.
That is the lasting significance of ANZAC Day and why it will flourish into the future. But establishing the template for the building of a nation a century later, would have been the last thing on the minds of those young, innocent and terrified soldiers as they tried to storm those inhospitable cliffs on that grey morning 99 years ago. They were focused simply on doing the immediate job in front of them, nothing more or less, certainly with no sense of greatness in mind, but just getting on with it, as anyone around them would. That is why they are such special heroes and their legacy a proud one for us to embrace.